Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | As Uganda prepares the observance of World AIDS Day on December 1st, the nation grapples with a substantial challenge posed by the persistently high number of new HIV infections, jeopardizing the ambitious goal of ending the epidemic by 2030.
Addressing journalists at the government-owned media center, Dr. Nelson Musooba, the Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission, acknowledged the commendable progress the country has made in reducing the epidemic’s prevalence from 18 percent in the 1980s to the current 5.2 percent. Additionally, AIDS-related deaths have significantly decreased from 94,000 to 17,000.
Despite these achievements, Musooba expressed concern about the ongoing high rate of new infections, averaging 1,000 people per week, particularly impacting young individuals. Girls, in particular, face a disproportionate burden, with infection rates 3 to 4 times higher than those among boys, attributed to factors like trans-generational and transactional sex. Musooba urged Ugandans to actively combat the disease by knowing their HIV status and accessing accurate information about HIV and AIDS.
Highlighting an increase in Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) enrollment among people living with AIDS, Musooba noted that, as of June this year, 1.4 million out of the estimated 1.433 million people living with HIV in December 2022 had enrolled in ART. Emphasizing the importance of increasing enrollment in HIV treatment, he stressed that undetectable virus levels are crucial in preventing transmission and new infections.
Jacqueline Makokha, the UNAIDS Country Director, emphasized the pivotal role of community leadership in the fight against HIV. She called on the government and stakeholders to fund community-led programs to scale up efforts against AIDS. Makokha underscored the need to eliminate barriers to community leadership and create a regulatory environment facilitating the community’s role in providing HIV services.
Dr. Steven Watiti, the former chairman of People Living with HIV, cautioned against complacency despite lower prevalence rates, urging collective action to combat the disease for Uganda to meet its goal of ending AIDS by 2030. Watiti highlighted persistent stigma associated with people living with HIV, impacting adherence to treatment and instances of self-stigma hindering status disclosure.
Ruth Awori, the Executive Director of Young People Living with HIV, raised concerns about low levels of treatment literacy within communities, hindering their ability to lead in the fight against HIV. She emphasized limited funding for the HIV response at the country level and the violation of human rights among those living with the disease, linking these challenges to stigma and discrimination. The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day, “Let the Communities Lead,” will be observed with main events in Rakai district.